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Show Business: Elliott Gould: The Urban Don Quixote

28 minute read

It could have been a scene straight from one of his movies. At a rock concert in Manhattan’s Central Park, a man sat nervously waiting for the music to begin. He had run out of conversation with his date and, to pass the time and ease the tension, he was now dragging half surreptitiously on a neatly rolled joint. The man looked to his left and saw what might have been his double. Same man, same situation, sitting with his girl in the same subtle, silent agony.

Trying hard to seem casual, the first man offered the joint. The second smiled gratefully and accepted. He took a slow drag and passed it back. They studied each other. Both had bushy hair, full sideburns and city complexions with heavy shadow. Both wore those wraparound tinted eyeglasses that look like the windshield of a small Italian sports car. Both, despite some attempts at careful grooming, looked—well, sort of dumpy. They were wearing chinos, sneakers without socks and knit shirts on which even the tiny Lacoste alligators seemed ill at ease and vaguely apprehensive.

The marijuana and the absurd similarity of their situations established a rapport. Slowly the first man drawled, “Hey . . . hey . . . aren’t you . . . Elliott Gould?”

“No, man,” said the second. “I’m not Elliott Gould.”

“I’ve seen all your movies,” the first man persisted. “I liked you in Bob and Ted and Alice and Whosis.”

“Well,” admitted the second man, “I guess I could be Elliott Gould.”

PRECISELY. The real Elliott Gould was elsewhere that evening, but the two anxious urbanites were going through just the sort of encounter that Gould has faced in the burst of films —from Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice to this summer’s Getting Straight and Move—that have raised him to stardom in less than a year. There were even elements of this mood in M*A*S*H, the battlefront comedy that has become the most talked-about movie of 1970. Gould always seems to be caught up in social —and sexual—tension. He embodies an inner need to be hip at the risk of seeming silly, the struggle not to give in to the indignity and/or insanity of contemporary life. The two pseudo-hipsters in the park, and thousands more like them, have made Elliott Gould a star for an uptight age. In Gould they see all their tensions, frustrations and insecurities personified and turned into nervous comedy that both tickles and stings with the shock of recognition.

Gould is more than just a synergistic reaction between the era and the audience. His remarkable year is being capped by the ultimate cinematic coup —a leading role in a film by Sweden’s consummate film maker, Ingmar Bergman. Bergman picked Gould for the part of a rootless archaeologist in his forthcoming film The Touch after seeing him in Getting Straight—the movie among the four currently in circulation in which Gould feels he gave his best performance. “Very often you see American monsters created by the audience,” says Bergman. “Oh, they do have something, but it’s only one dimension. They can never express anything but themselves. What I want from the actors in my pictures is an ability to express the second and third dimensions, an ability to put the part together inside themselves and then materialize it. I want to get it from their faces, from their eyes, from their movements. I can see that Gould has it.”

Shifting the Focus

So can Gould’s battalion of fans. For them he is a prime example of the kind of film star who needs a wave length more than a makeup man. “There’s been a shift in focus of movie heroes and movie stories,” says Jules Feiffer, the writer-cartoonist responsible for a new Gould movie, Little Murders. “Out of this shift came the possibility of careers for the likes of Gould, Alan Arkin and Dustin Hoffman. What really happened is that Hollywood is trying to update its mythology, and these are the stars of the new mythology.” Mel Stuart, who directed Gould in the soon-to-be-released I Love My Wife, puts it another way: “Gone is the superego, the allure, the inserting of a personal quality above the role.” All very true, yet it is the sense of identification with Gould the man that makes him so sympathetic to an audience.

When Gould got ready for the orgy in Bob & Carol by dousing himself with deodorant, gargling and climbing into bed in his undershorts and executive-length socks, millions of sexually unliberated men and women not only laughed at his unease but were moved and comforted by it. Audiences could share vicariously the exhilaration of his dream orgies in Move, and at the same time empathize with the vague big-city terrors that made him paranoid and the marital pressures that made him impotent. They recognized the death’s-head hilarity of M*A*S*H and the rebellious comedy of Getting Straight as surely as they will sympathize with his plight in I Love My Wife, where, playing an upwardly mobile man married to a dumpy wife, he begins a compulsive series of extramarital flings and affairs.

Where Garfield Strutted

The way he looks is part of the Gould effect. It is not so much that he seems so ordinary as that he seems so little like a star. His clothes, whether custom-made suits or crumpled fatigues, never quite fit; his hair could use a trim; and he can raise a heavy beard (as he is now doing) in a matter of days. In this era of the inescapable nude scene, Gould’s ordinary and not especially well-cared-for proportions come as a blessed relief. For the average American male on a Saturday-night movie date, it was once a recurring minor trauma when the leading man—Burt Lancaster, say, or Charlton Heston—shed his shirt to reveal muscles rippling in well-choreographed rows and a Mr. America chest. Gould, bare-assed in Move, evokes anything but competitive embarrassment and might even persuade a few victims of anatomical insecurity to forget about jogging.

There has not been a film star of such distinctly urban identity since the days of John Garfield. But there the similarity emphatically ends. Each was distinctly a man of and for his time. Garfield strutted down city streets in the late ’30s and ’40s, while Gould stumbles where somebody neglected to curb his dog. Hard times tempered Garfield into tough resiliency; the characters that Gould plays frequently need help ordering breakfast. Garfield wrestled with evil forces and emerged, if not untainted, then certainly unvanquished. Gould’s characters can’t hold their jwn against a teen-age mugger; they all react to corruption with a sly smile and a shrug—and then reduce it to absurdity through comic overexposure. Garfield, undergoing a dark trial of the soul, could look at his lady of the moment (as he did in Abe Polansky’s Force of Evil) and confess: “I feel like midnight when I don’t know what the morning will bring.” When Gould tries to woo a reluctant Dyan Cannon in Bob & Carol, he pleads, “You want me to give you a massage? Let me give you a massage.”

Still, Gould does have star quality; he is both usual and unique. Comparisons with other actors only stress his own very special, very elusive quality. His estranged wife, Barbra Streisand, calls him “the American Jean-Paul Belmondo.” Friend and M*A*S*H Co-Star Donald Sutherland sees Gerard Philippe lurking somewhere behind that constantly abashed countenance. His friend and partner in an 18-month-old production company, Jack Brodsky, calls him “the Jewish Richard Burton”; and Paul Mazursky, director of Bob & Carol, says that he is “the Jewish Jimmy Stewart.” But the man himself says simply: “I’m the Jewish Elliott Gould.”

Gould is the lowest comic denominator of everybody’s worst opinion of himself. “Someone said to me once that I was bigger than life on the screen,” he muses. “But that’s a misconception. If anything, I’m lifelike.” Perhaps, but his tribulations as a frustrated husband, a war-weary medic or a graduate student being roasted on the academic grill are all carefully mirrored through a crazy kaleidoscope. When Gould is hamstrung by the manic inequities of contemporary life, his frantic attempts to extricate himself only tie him further into comic knots. If he were not larger than life, if he were just plain, beat-down, fed-up 1970 folks, then Elliott Gould probably would not be so funny. As it is, he is real enough to recognize but not so real that he cannot, in the safety of the darkened theater, be laughed at.

Gould is embarrassed at being considered the archetype of the urban man struggling to stay afloat in a swelling sea of neuroses. “I really work at not paying attention to anybody who supposedly identifies with me,” he insists. “There may be a lot of people who would identify with me because I’m very like them. But I’m not their spokesman.” If not, he is certainly their champion, a forlorn figurehead who has done battle for the psyched-up majority. In return, they have rewarded this reluctant Don Quixote (a favorite Gould hero) with unabashed enthusiasm at the box office. Bob & Carol, M*A*S*H and Getting Straight are all lucrative movies. Move, which misfired, represents a setback, but the others have already established him as a strong box-office attraction, an actor whose very presence guarantees a certain audience—and certain revenue.

A greater marvel than his quick success is the fact that Elliott Gould, who turned 32 last week, has managed to pursue a career, not to mention happiness, this far. He took to the psychiatrist’s couch at 25, when his career had stalled and his identity was pretty well subordinated to that of his wife. (Mr. Streisand, they called him in those days.) It was only a few weeks ago, in fact, that Elliott began to feel that he could look at the world at eye level. “I generally walked around with my head down, and now it’s terrific for my eye level to be there,” he says, drawing up to his full 6 ft. 3 in. “One of the reasons was to see that I didn’t trip on anything or step on anything that might be crawling.”

No wonder he watched his step. Gould is the product of a frustrated and confused childhood that he has never outgrown. His early life sounds like a black-comedy nightmare by Philip Roth out of Bruce Jay Friedman—an anxious tale of well-meaning error populated by an overbearing mother, an overshadowed father and all the tensions that go with being an only child in a middle-class Jewish household. His trouble began in an apartment in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, a claustrophobic 21 rooms where Elliott shared a bedroom with his parents until he was eleven years old.

Elliott’s father, Bernard Goldstein, had been a Broadway paper boy back in the old days when Eddie and Ida Cantor would come over after the final curtain of Whoopee at the New Amsterdam to buy a copy of the morning edition.

But Bernie made his steady living in the garment business, moving from one job to another. At the age of 18 he fell in love with a girl he met at a Sweet Sixteen party, but instead married Lucille Raver “on the rebound.” He found himself, on Aug. 29, 1938, the father of a baby boy. Bernie was only 24 and none too pleased.

He tried to make the best of things. He took his son to his first baseball game at Ebbets Field when Elliott was only 19 months old (the Dodgers v. the Cubs). “Four home runs were hit in the game,” Bernie says. “I didn’t see one of them. I was in the men’s room with Elliott each time.” As a child, Elliott was always anxious to please and quick to apologize when he imagined he had done wrong. When his father would tire after tossing the boy in the air and catching him, little Elliott would say, “I sorry, Daddy,” throw his arms around his father and give him a conciliatory kiss. At the height of World War II, when Elliott was 51, Goldstein was drafted into the Army. He promptly fractured an ankle, contracted pneumonia and spent eight months in the hospital with a collapsed lung. Lucille made ends meet by selling artificial flowers to neighborhood beauty shops, while Elliott, saddened and confused by his father’s sudden departure, spent a lot of time on the Brooklyn streets.

“We’d play things like Ring-a-leevio, Three Feet to Germany, Johnny on the Pony,” says Gould. But he excelled at flipping trading cards bought by the fistful down at Irving’s Candy Store. “There were Smilin’ Jack cards, baseball cards, World War II cards with General MacArthur and the bombing of Tokyo on them,” he recalls fondly. But mastery of card flipping and having his own charge account at Irving’s were not enough. Gould was terribly conscious of “a degree of vulnerability, of not wanting to make a fool of myself. I didn’t feel abnormal, but I certainly didn’t feel normal.”

Elliott’s mother remembers. “This child,” she says, “was too good to be true. He was too well-behaved. He wanted to please so desperately. I was too strict with him.” She shakes her head. “Yes, Mama watched over him perhaps too closely. But it was done out of love. I wouldn’t leave any stone unturned as far as this child went. I’d cut off my arm for this child.”

When Elliott was 81, Mama decided that elocution lessons might help him to relax. She chose Charlie Lowe’s Broadway show business school for kids. Charlie remembers her visit: “Fix up his diction,” she said. “Sure,” said Charlie. “We’ll give him a little drama, teach him to sing, teach him to dance.” “He’ll never dance,” Mama told Charlie firmly. “Just fix the diction.” Charlie ignored her (“We do that”) and put Elliott through the regular Lowe routine. “That meant everything,” Gould recalled to TIME Correspondent Mary Cronin, “Blow-your-nose lessons, dance lessons, wipe yourself lessons, masturbation lessons, bunko. Compulsions for a dissatisfied mother. Why did I go? Because I loved my mother a lot. That’s why I did it.”

A Has-Been by Twelve

Charlie taught the kids to be little song-and-dance men, true troupers in the old vaudeville style. They would perform in shows at temples and hospitals around the city, where Elliott would knock ’em dead with a “Mary Had a Little Lamb” routine that Charlie taught him. “Mary had a little lamb, some peas and mashed potatoes/An ear of corn, some buttered beets and then had sliced tomatoes,” and so on for a total of eight teeth-gnashing verses.

Occasionally the family would go horseback riding along Ocean Parkway, but mostly Elliott trod the boards for Charlie and smiled sweetly for photos and fashion shows, a sideline that Lucille got him into. “I thought he liked it,” she remembers now, “but maybe it took too much out of him emotionally. He did quite a bit when he was nine and ten, but by twelve he was a has-been. He was too old to be cute.”

Not quite. After Elliott had had a year or so of schooling, Charlie Lowe decided to put him on local TV shows, like the Bonny Maid Linoleum Versatile Varieties. As he was about to go on camera for the first time, “the names of the children were being announced,” Mrs. Goldstein remembers. “Charlie Lowe whispered to me: ‘Now you don’t want him to go on as Goldstein, do you? How about Gold?’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘Gould.’ ” And so it was.

To this day, says Charlie, “he comes to see us. He even kisses me now; he’s like my own son, you know. Before he split up with—uh—he was in that big car and he jumped out when he saw me, ran across Broadway calling, ‘Uncle Charlie! Uncle Charlie!’ All the kids call me Uncle Charlie. And he gave me a big hug.” Says Elliott: “Charlie Lowe is exactly like Fagin. Whoever got any of the bread, if there was any to be had, the kids sure as hell didn’t. Every once in a while we’d get a pastrami sandwich or a flashlight or something. God, Charlie Lowe may have my picture hanging up there in his studio! God knows, he’s probably the first person who’s responsible for my being conscious of what the hell show business is. But I had such negative conditioning that it made it about impossible for me to act. I was no better than a Jerry Mahoney puppet.” Why didn’t he rebel? “I didn’t know then that there was a choice, that there could be another kind of life.”

For Elliott, there couldn’t be. His father gave him a normal-enough bar mitzvah (“They’re still talking about it. The Biltmore in Brooklyn! Forty-some dollars a couple!”), but in addition to Charlie Lowe’s, his mother enrolled him in the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan. When the family lived for a year in West Orange, N.J., Elliott had to commute to school, and “got sick on the bus every time.”

Summer vacations, young Elliott performed in the Catskill borscht belt. He would win dance contests during the Champagne Hour, doing the mambo with his mother. “When an entertainer needed a stooge,” says his father, “Elliott would be the one they’d choose. He could do a dozen dialects—German, Italian, Jewish, all of them. Then he performed one summer for three weeks in summer stock. He had the second lead in a pre-Broadway show at Woodstock, Some Little Honor.”

It seemed then that he was always doing bits, was always “on.” Friends recall that he would go into a diner, sit next to a little old lady and calmly make a meal out of his paper napkin —complete with salt, pepper and ketchup. He also liked to knock on strangers’ doors and inquire politely, “Is this the party?” Or walk into one door of a Checker cab stopped in traffic and out the other (apologizing to the passenger), or call up relatives and confound them with some uncanny voice impersonation of the rabbi or the neighborhood butcher. It was the kind of desperately funny behavior that was a frustrated child’s plea for attention and a cry for help.

It also got him his first part in a Broadway show. In 1957, when he was 18, Gould phoned a producer, impersonated an agent and sang the praises of a kid named Elliott Gould. The job (in the chorus line of a short-lived show called Rumple) earned him $125 a week and bursitis from hefting showgirls into the air. After Rumple crumpled, he scuffled around the periphery of Broadway, picking up a small job here and there and spending a lot of time in the 42nd Street movie houses.

An occupational klutz with girls, Elliott was always alone, except for an occasional buddy. He was gambling compulsively by the time his mother and father went to Florida for the 1958 season. He ran up debts, pawned his father’s jewelry to pay some of them off, and had their home phone disconnected when hoods started calling him to demand the rest of their payment. He and a friend sold phony ads for a nonexistent labor newspaper until the racket got too hot to handle; then Elliott took odd jobs—as a rug-cleaner salesman, a theatrical-school teacher, night elevator man in a residential hotel. Around this time, things seemed to pick up. He got a summer job in Hit the Deck, which led to a chorus job in Irma La Douce, which led to an audition for lead understudy in I Can Get It For You Wholesale, which led to that girl who stole the show, Barbra Streisand.

Elliott got more than he hoped for. He not only got the job, he got the lead, and Barbra got him. The show was not a hit, but Barbra won high praise for her role, and Gould’s relationship with the compulsively over-achieving Brooklyn girl went on. He moved into her apartment over a seafood restaurant on Third Avenue. A year and a half later, they entered into a marriage that came perilously close to finishing Elliott. Barbra made it big in about as much time as it takes to get to Coney Island on the subway. At times it seemed that while Barbra was basking in the spotlight, Elliott was only backstage manning the rheostats. He appeared sporadically on Broadway, and became part of his wife’s TV production company, which had been formed to package shows for the networks. Elliott learned a lot about the business, but did not sell a single show.

A good portion of his time was spent bolstering Barbra. “He did help me a lot when we were married,” she says now, “but mostly he kept my feet on the ground. At the same time, I wasn’t considerate enough of his problems.” Those were considerable. Explaining his struggle to deal with ego damage during the years of his failure and Barbra’s tremendous success, Gould says: “First of all, I came to those years with a minimum of ego. I was fighting. The first time I saw Tarzan get stuck in quicksand, I got anxiety and used to walk around locked to make sure there was no quicksand. My analyst said I was a masochist.”

A Bath of Lava

The strain became too great, and after seven years together, the two separated. “Marriage to Barbra was a fantastic experience,” says Gould. “It had a lot of chocolate souffle and things like that, but it was also like a bath of lava.” Says Barbra: “It must have been very difficult for him. Marriages between people who are self-involved is hard. It’s safer for actors not to be married to one another.”

Gould’s surge of success followed closely upon his separation from Barbra, and analysis has also seemed to add to his self-confidence. “It wasn’t until the day before yesterday that I stopped being a tortured individual.” he says. Curiously, both he and Barbra still cling, however tenuously, to each other and to their 31-year-old son Jason. They have not yet filed for divorce. “That technicality,” Elliott says mysteriously, “can evoke a great many inhibitions.” It does not inhibit him, though, from camping in his Greenwich Village town house with a quietly attentive 18-year-old girl who has no show business aspirations.

Vestiges of his childhood and his manic adolescence remain. He can still be persuaded upon occasion to do visceral and sometimes appalling routines like “Cow to the Slaughter” and the “Wolf Man.” The days when gambling had become so compulsive that he would place bets on both competing teams are well behind him, but he still takes a shot at the Las Vegas slot machines now and again. Gould remains an energetic sports freak, and a picture of New York Knickerbocker Star Willis Reed is Scotch-taped to his bedroom wall. His conversation is salted with sports slang and four-letter words. He has taken up karate and given up many of the rich foods that he and Barbra used to enjoy (particularly Chinese food and coffee ice cream). He constantly munches sunflower seeds. Director Dick Rush swears that he could track Gould on the set of Getting Straight by the trail of sunflower husks he would leave behind. At one point the prop man heard about a bargain in sunflower seeds and presented Gould with 1,000 bags that he had bought cheap.

Fun in the Tub

The joy of Gould’s personality, part whimsy and part neurosis, does not manifest itself to everyone. “He has the capability for great warmth,” says M-A-S-H Co-Star Sally Kellerman, “but just when you think you’ve found yourself with him, he turns off. It’s hard to hang your hat on him.” Yet she also found him to be “a cool, attractive guy,” an appraisal that might alarm his insecure male fans, who soothe themselves with the comfortable notion that Gould has all the sex appeal of a sated salmon swimming downstream. “He’s a lot of fun in the tub,” confides Paula Prentiss, who played a bathroom scene with him in Move. “He’s very easy to love. And he always knows his lines.” Some might say too well. A couple of other M*A*S*H stalwarts believe that Gould and Sutherland hogged all the best bits of comic business, and one, who maintains that Elliott is on a big star trip, insists that he will never work with him again.

Despite such isolated gripes, Gould is known almost universally as a very professional and highly resourceful performer. “He’s an excellent actor,” says Alan Arkin, who directed him in Little Murders. “The character he plays has a kind of brooding intensity that Elliott doesn’t have. He had to work very hard for that. But he was completely successful.” Candy Bergen reports that she had never had such fun working in films before co-starring with him and adds: “He was the first person to teach me to enjoy acting.” One of Elliott’s lessons consisted of standing off-camera while Candy was doing a closeup for Getting Straight and mugging furiously to get her to respond. “He never throws a tantrum, never gets into a snit,” says Bob Altman, who made M*A*S*H. “He knows exactly what he wants and how to get it.”

All of this takes a certain kind of detachment—a detachment Gould maintains by living and working as much as he can on home territory in Manhattan. His street in Greenwich Village gives him “a nice sense of neighborhood.” He leases two floors of a house that is large, respectably old and fairly bursting with the kind of tchotchkies that he and Barbra used to collect—a United Cigar plaque in the downstairs hall, for instance, and a Breyer’s Ice Cream sign that hangs in the doorway. The living room contains a Correct Weight penny scale (still functional), a large wall sign advertising PIERCE BROTHERS/ FUNERAL PARKING ONLY/ALL OTHERS WILL BE TOWED AWAY AT OWNER’S EXPENSE, and a big old copper shoeshine stand. Gould has resolved to amass a private collection of film classics, but his only acquisition thus far is a dubious item called The Monkey, which he unreels for son Jason. Also militating against the success of the Gould film library is the fact that its founder and chief benefactor becomes easily intimidated by the intricacies of threading the movie projector.

Gould is so busy making movies that he has little time to watch them; occasionally, he has to sneak out of business meetings just to get in an hour on the basketball court. Brodsky-Gould Productions has already produced one movie (Feiffer’s Little Murders) and has an enviable list of properties waiting —Bernard Malamud’s The Assistant, for example, and Bruce Jay Friedman’s new novel The Dick. The partners plan to make at least four more films by the end of next year, including a freeform adaptation of that bestselling catechism, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex. Elliott even talks about taking advantage of some of Charlie Lowe’s singing lessons by giving a concert of songs by Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Jacques Brel.

Risking Self-Parody

“What I really want to do now,” he says, “is to direct.” He is currently working with a writer to develop an original screenplay for his first venture behind the cameras. He and Brodsky have also discussed producing a film for Barbra, with Mrs. Gould in the leading role and Elliott, maybe, directing. “Listen,” Gould grins, contemplating all these conquerable worlds, “I’m not even in my prime yet.”

The grave risk now facing Gould is getting into reruns before his prime time is used up. In Getting Straight, when his jaw flew open in astonishment and water cascaded down his chin during the Master of Arts oral exam, the bit was both funny and surprising. But when he appeared on-screen in Move just a couple of months later doing the same thing again, it became self-parody. The theme of I Love My Wife concerns the oft-plumbed conflict between professional success and contemporary marriage; Little Murders deals with urban man’s inhumanity to urban man. Is it all getting too familiar? “My God,” he says, “this is my work. What difference does it make if I work 40 weeks a year? That’s fantastic, especially when you consider I used to work ten weeks a year. What does it matter, as long as the work has validity?” In contrast to someone like Warren Beatty, who shows up in a movie every few years, Gould has been making them as though his time were running out. For him, the therapeutic validity of going from one project to another often outweighs aesthetic considerations. He is all too willing to forget that audience overfamiliarity may not necessarily breed contempt but something far worse—indifference.

If only because of the echoes of his mother’s personality, Gould’s situation bears at least a superficial resemblance to Philip Roth’s fictional character, Alexander Portnoy. The noted psychologist,

Bruno Bettelheim, recently used Portnoy’s Complaint as the basis for a fictional analyst’s notebook. Portnoy’s problem, wrote Bettelheim, was not excessive hatred of a smothering, domineering Jewish mother, but the complete reverse —excessive love and dependence on her. In these terms, Gould’s current life-style is reminiscent of his childhood, and his current burst of show business activity could conceivably be an effort to live up to his mother’s expectations for him.

At least one person resists all such interpretations. “Psychoanalysts,” Gould’s father complained to TIME’S Patsy Beckert, “those guys poison the mind. Elliott says to me now, ‘Why didn’t you tell me about sex?’ Well, who told me about sex? He says, ‘I could have been a fag!’ But I say not with that background. Not with the nice summers he spent in the mountains.” Bernie himself is happier now that he has divorced Elliott’s mother and married his Sweet Sixteen sweetheart, whom he met again after she had been widowed.

The new Bergman film will offer Gould an invaluable opportunity to break away from the life and the stereotyped roles that now make him so popular but could in two years’ time make him just a familiar bore. The plunge into Bergman’s special private world will require greater depth, diversity and complexity than Gould has heretofore displayed. “That will be no problem,” Bergman says. “You know that when you talk to him. As for comedy—well, all the best actors are not fitted only for tragedy or comedy. They carry two masks.”

Naturally, Gould is not so sure and is already worrying about the part, which he will begin filming later this month in Sweden. One of his greatest fears is that he may be asked to make love to the leading lady on-screen in the buff. Bob Kaufman, who wrote the screenplays for Getting Straight and / Love My Wife, is currently getting a kick out of teasing his friend about working with Bergman. “When he’s on the set, Gould thinks every director is Fellini. When the picture is finished, he’s already David Lean. But by the time it’s released, he’s Mervyn Le Roy. Let’s face it,” he says in joking anticipation. “One day Elliott’s going to say that Bergman’s a jerk.”

Maybe. But in the meantime, the Bergman role will provide Gould with the incentive to stop unpacking his familiar bag of tricks. Until The Touch is ready for release—which means not for at least a year—he will still be on constant view in his U.S. films, enduring the endless comic agonies of contemporary American life. That will further reinforce the prevailing impression that he is the star of every sixth movie made in the U.S. If that is a slight exaggeration, then so, just now, is Elliott Gould.

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